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Improved Richmond basketball deserving of praise

Published: December 13, 2010, 8:29 am ET
Sports Editor

As a native Richmonder, I have grown up knowing the Richmond vs. VCU basketball rivalry. Though it may not be as nationally well-known as, say, the Tobacco Road rivalry of Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, this little East vs. West Cary Street throw down is always a crowd-pleaser. The Spiders’ Saturday night romp was no exception.

But I overheard someone say the other day that Richmond was “great at football … basketball, no so much,” and that appalled me. Excuse me, can I talk to you for a minute?

Yes, the Spiders accrue accolade after accolade in the Football Championship Series circuit, even picking up a sleigh-full of defensive honors in a year wherein the team did not advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. But how can someone insinuate that Richmond is not both a football front-runner and basketball behemoth?

This uninformed civilian continued to spout off how Virginia Commonwealth University is “soooo good at basketball.” Yes, I will give VCU credit where credit is due: Under former head coach Anthony Grant, the Rams knocked off Duke in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament, led by current Oklahoma City Thunder guard Eric Maynor and his dazzling athleticism.

VCU has had a definite presence in the 804 as a dominant basketball team. But is that because they only have basketball season to hype about all year? Maybe. Perhaps the adversity Richmond head coach Chris Mooney faced his first few seasons, where he had literally had to make lemonade from lemons, left the average Richmonder with a stigma against Richmond basketball. Clearly, this has changed a lot since my freshman year, which happened to be the freshman season of three very important Spider basketball players.

Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper and Kevin Smith all made their presence known as the new era of Spider basketball in the 2007-2008 season. That season, Richmond basketball saw its first winning season and its first post-season action since 2004 under former head coach Jerry Wainwright.

Since the trio of Anderson, Harper and Smith arrived on campus, they have helped put Richmond men’s basketball back on track for post-season success. But a lot of the Richmond success went unnoticed outside of the campus bubble.

Once Richmond achieved a Top-25 ranking last season — the first such ranking since 1986 — Richmonders took note: the “itsy, bitsy” Spider was no longer such a squashed bug when it came to basketball. The Capital City now had two formidable basketball teams.

What irked me most of the uninformed Richmonder was that he failed to notice that Richmond made it to the NCAA last year with an at-large bid and a No. 7 seed — the highest the Spiders have ever earned, AND they finished the season still ranked at No. 24. Where was VCU in last season’s Big Dance? They weren’t even in the concession line at the dance: They were in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), a lowly consolation prize for those not invited to the Big Dance nor the NIT.

Well, OK, VCU won the CBI, so congratulations to them for that; the Spiders played in the CBI during Anderson, Harper and Smith’s first season. But to me, the Spiders making the NCAA and VCU out seemed to be a role-reversal of city identities.

Regardless of whether a typical Richmonder sees the University of Richmond as a football or a basketball team is inconsequential. I’m just happy to see more and more Richmonders realizing that while the UR campus is beautiful and its students are some of the brightest in the South (despite many of them hailing from north of the Mason-Dixon), its athletics are finally receiving the praise they deserve.

As basketball season progresses, I have no doubt in seeing Richmond ranked again and heading into post-season success. I bet VCU also sees post-season success, but many ESPN commentators may wonder aloud, “What if VCU had beaten Richmond?” and what effect that would have had on both teams. Richmond certainly proved that it was the better team Saturday night and earned bragging rights until the next clash of the Capital City squads. A quality win against a formidable foe will prove valuable heading into March.

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  • Ctgenxr1162

    As a VCU alumnus, I congratulate UR. My family is split right down the middle. Half went to VCU the other UR. We all know what it is like to have the occasional comment made about each other’s schools. In my humble opinion both schools are great in their own respect. Good luck to the SPIDERS with the rest of the season.

  • Skins06

    Maybe the “uninformed civilian” was referring to the fact that VCU has owned this series 6 of the last 7 times. Yes, including last year (65-57 VCU victory), in which as you mentioned U of R had a 7th seed in the NCAAs compared to our sub-par CBI championship. Or perhaps that VCU has participated in more NCAA tournaments? or how about VCU leading the head-to-head series 40-24?

    I don’t know, maybe you can add me to your list of “uninformed civilians” that believes Virginia Commonwealth University equals basketball in Richmond.